The transport challenge: passenger management ahead of the Rio Olympics

As the world prepares to celebrate the 2016 Rio Olympics, local transport managers are buckling up for a huge surge in passengers. Apart from a big investment in new public transport infrastructure, how can station managers ensure smooth travel during the Games?


Rio Olympics

In the run-up to the opening ceremony of this year's Olympic Games on 5 August, organisers and local authorities in Rio de Janeiro are scrambling to put the finishing touches to the host city's public spaces, venues, accommodation and transport connections, in a bid to welcome approximately 7.5 million sports fans and 10,500 athletes to Brazil's second-largest city.

Sprawling across 33 venues in four separate districts - Copacabana, Barra, Deodoro and Maracanã - the 17-day-long festivities heavily rely on the smooth running of the transport network. This was recognised early on by Brazilian authorities, who put transport at the forefront of their agenda, with new metro and tram infrastructure to be regarded as the Games' main legacy projects.

As such, much of the $11.4bn Olympic budget was dedicated to urban transportation; a department in which Rio was heavily lacking before the Fifa World Cup in 2014.

"The flagship project was a $2.6bn metro line extension serving the Olympic village."

Ahead of the Olympic deadline, however, a number of transport upgrades were put front and centre, including three new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lines and a brand new Vehicle on Light Tracks (VLT) tram circuit.

The flagship project was a $2.6bn metro line extension serving the Olympic village. With the first successful trial having taken place in May, Metro Line 4 is expected to officially open on 5 August and carry 300,000 passengers per day in its first year of operation.

Although initial tests for both the metro line and VLT tram indicate they will be fully operational during the festivities, the increased footfall from crowds of this size can be daunting for even the most experienced of transport operators.

"The most common concern is increased footfall and queues," says Brett Hellyer, business development manager at Tensator Group, which specialises in customer flow and queue management.

"So they have to ask: do we have the correct queue management in place and do we have the infrastructure for it?"

The psychology behind successful people management

When preparing to welcome hordes of commuters and tourists across the same network, balancing out the services offered to these two distinct types of passengers is key, Hellyer points out.

"With locals, they always know where they are going, but when you have tourists, managers have to look at different aspects such as mobility and impaired hearing, visually impaired people and so on," Hellyer says.

"So what the station managers really need to consider is how to improve efficiency of flow for the commuters, while at the same time offering that additional support and guidance to help the tourists navigate the station."

This is not an easy task, especially considering the sheer numbers of people passing through the station at rush hours.

The answer could lie in differentiating between single and multi-line queues in rail stations, and the psychological advantages of one over the other in keeping customers satisfied.

"Single-line queue helps improve service efficiency."

While in a multi-line queue, customers can choose to join one of multiple queues formed behind each check-out, the single-line queue system sees passengers waiting in only one queue and being called forward to the next available cashier.

Research by Tensator shows that the multi-line queue often leads to a phenomenon called 'queue frustration' or 'queue rage', which occurs when people notice another queue moving faster than theirs.

"Single-line queue completely cuts out that possibility," Hellyer says. "It's about fairness in the end. The single-line queue also helps improve service efficiency, service and stops frustration."

Another aspect that affects passenger satisfaction is the perceived wait; a familiar concept that gives the impression that waiting times are longer when our mind is not engaged.

"If you are in the queue and you've got something to watch or read, or you've got maps and information that you can take in, because you are occupied, the perceived wait feels shorter and the customer satisfaction is greater," Hellyer suggests.

Security threats a priority during the Games

Earlier in the year, Brazilian intelligence officials raised a red flag over 'credible' terror threats during the Olympics, while the country's security forces promised to deploy 65,000 police and troops across the city, with a further 15,000 as contingency back-up.

Undoubtedly a close eye will also be kept on the transport network.

In terms of avoiding congestion during scans, information is key, such as letting passengers know they are entering a security area so to have their possessions ready for scanning.

"We all recognise that there is an increased terrorist threat," says Hellyer. "You've got heightened security, police patrolling, the public that have been briefed to report anything that might seem suspicious, but you also need to look at what you can do to minimise the damage if you have an incident."

Improved transport the Olympics' biggest legacy

In light of the fast-approaching deadline, improvement works and their associated costs have often come under scrutiny by the international media, amid fears that certain transport connections may not be finalised in time.

In the lead-up to Metro Line 4 trials, Australia's chef de mission Kitty Chiller highlighted that transport was the biggest challenge facing Rio authorities, four months ahead of the festivities.

But after two major milestones were achieved in May and June, with the opening of both the refurbished metro line and the $340m tram line, organisers are confident that plans are on-track.

"I look at the city as if it was an athlete."

Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes, who has been described as the 'driving force' behind the Games, welcomed the new urban systems as an important legacy for Brazilians to last long after the media hype fades.

"A lot of what is for the Olympics, the BRT, the metro expansion, the demolition of the Perimetral, are things the city asked for for a long time, and the Olympics helped a lot in this process," he said in an interview with The Rio Times.

"I look at the city as if it was an athlete with a goal to reach and obstacles to overcome. The city is behaving in that sense."

"The comparison that matters is between Rio and Rio," Paes said in June, at the opening of a new sanitation facility. "Rio before the Olympics and Rio now."